Our bodies are wired for survival. Imagine being pursued by a bear or someone speaking sharply or loudly towards you. Almost instantaneously, various parts of your body – notably the adrenal and pituitary glands – swing into action. Hormones flood your system, preparing you to either face the threat or flee from it. This entire process occurs autonomically/subconsciously, under the umbrella of our stress response system.
This response is nature’s way of ensuring your safety. When faced with a threat, your body rapidly produces cortisol. While this hormone is crucial for immediate action, prolonged exposure can disrupt your daily functions and, more critically, amplify health risks and cultivate an environment for disease in your body.
Within seconds of detecting stress, your body’s “fight or flight” system (sympathetic nervous system) becomes activated while the “rest and digest” system (parasympathetic nervous system) recedes. As a result, non-essential bodily functions, like digestion and reproduction, momentarily shut down.
Interestingly, cortisol operates on a delicate balance. Too little can have immediate, dire consequences, while an excess can have long-term negative implications. The right level of stress varies from person to person, influenced by a combination of genetics and life experiences.
Studies have indicated that children are not mere bystanders to the stresses faced by their caregivers. High levels of stress can leave imprints on children, affecting their genetic expression and their hormonal response to future stresses. To understand more about this, the ACES study (https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/aces/index.htmlf) offers valuable insights.
Stress is a natural part of life. Understanding stress, its impact on your life and gaining insight on the right amount of stress is helpful for you to live a better quality of life. What is a better quality of life?
In today’s modern world, you are not likely to be chased down the street by a bear. Though, yes, I know at certain times of year in some modern cities bears roam, you still are not likely to be chased by one. However, modern stressors still activate our body’s ancient defense mechanisms. Our perception and interpretation of these stressors can influence their impact on us. For instance, an upcoming social event might induce stress based on how one anticipates their experience at the gathering. The longer we dwell on such thoughts, the longer our bodies stay in a heightened state of stress.
To manage stress, you need to understand its nuances and triggers. You need to understand your internal family system. Once you have some insight about yourself and how you perceive daily life experiences, you can begin to develop tools to help you regulate your stress.
Stress regulation should be a daily practice if it is going to be effective.
Following are a few stress regulation techniques that should be practiced daily. Note, A 10-minute daily practice is far better than a one hour practice once a week.
Mindfulness Mindfulness, mentioned often in religious texts, aids in achieving this clarity. Scripture, particularly in 1 Peter 4:7, advises us to maintain clarity of mind and self-control. It involves being present, observing without judgment, and understanding one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations.
To begin a mindfulness practice, pick a time of day to intentionally observe. Try not to judge, but observe. Perhaps you take a walk outside and you begin by observing what you notice in the environment, then you notice what you feel in your body and where, then you notice the emotions you are experiencing while on the walk, then you observe the thoughts you are having.
Breath Simple breathing exercises can significantly counteract stress by calming the sympathetic nervous system. Setting aside a few minutes daily to sit comfortably, close your eyes, and focus on natural breathing can be rejuvenating.
Try sitting in a chair with both of your feet placed on the floor and your hands in your lap. Allow your back to rest against the back of the chair. Close your eyes and allow your breath to flow freely in and out of your nose. If you can keep our mouth closed and just allow your breath to flow naturally. Set a timer for 2 to 10 minutes and just breath. Sometimes deep breaths can be anxiety invoking, which is why I recommend natural breathing. While you are breathing to limit intrusive thoughts, think to yourself, “ I am inhaling “as you inhale and “I am exhaling” as you exhale. Repeat this until your allotted time ends.
Unchecked stress can alter your behavior, making you more irritable, impulsive, and less empathetic. It can also contribute to health issues and degrade your overall quality of life. For your well-being, and for those around you, it’s vital to understand stress and adopt practices that alleviate its impact.
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